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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6438

Mr JOHN COBB (10:59 AM) —I speak today in support of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Amendment Bill 2010. This bill aims to vastly improve the efficiency of the registration process of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority without jeopardising human health or the environment. The APVMA was introduced in 1993 to replace the smaller state based authorities and provide a national approach to agricultural and veterinary chemicals. These chemicals range from personal insect sprays through to the chemicals used during crop dusting and the huge variety of animal medication, drenches and dips that enable Australian producers to continue to deliver a high-quality product to Australian consumers and to the rest of the world without harming the environment or the producers themselves. The authority regulates one of the agricultural community’s few lines of defence against disease and insects that have the capacity to bring our crops, produce and exports to their knees, and deserves more time and attention than it is currently afforded by the government. The authority currently regulates some 8,000 chemicals and operates under a series of legislation enacted over the last 20 years to maintain higher standards of quality control.

Many companies and producers are currently forced to wait too long for products to be registered and deregistered. This bill aims to simplify and streamline that process, meaning an easier, quicker and better system for those involved. This will be done by allowing the authority to liaise with all applicants who are attempting to gain a permit to use the same product. Under the current system each application would be looked at on an individual basis despite being in some cases identical to another application. By combining several similar applications into one, the authority would be able to more efficiently deal with the applications themselves. Under the current legislation, it is very difficult for the authority to disclose that it has received multiple applications.

Streamlining these applications has a number of impacts on the efficiency of the authority. A streamlined process obviously reduces the number of hours required to approve or deny applications. Streamlining also provides greater consistency across the decision-making process. Identical cases should always produce identical results. The streamlining provides a stronger assurance that this will happen. Four separate producers in the same area currently have to lodge four separate applications to extend their use of exactly the same product. These applications, all of which are almost identical, have to go through the same evaluation process four separate times. The go-ahead is then given to the four separate producers as each of their applications is approved. The process is unnecessarily long and is disadvantaging the producers individually and collectively as time is wasted. The science behind all four applications will be the same and the impact on the environment, the livestock and the crops is almost identical. The authority needs the power to efficiently and effectively liaise with the four producers, verify the similarities and process the application as one joint evaluation.

This bill represents real action by the coalition on attempting to improve how efficiently the authority can act on these claims. Currently, according to the authority themselves, it takes anywhere from three to 15 months to register. However, there are reported cases well over this figure and this large backlog of claims and registration applications is hurting the agricultural community at large. The process can be improved by changing legislation and investing more money into the authority. The Labor government seems uninterested in either option.

Currently a product designed and developed primarily in Australia has been used by producers right around the world, but Australian producers have been missing out on its benefits. Zolvix, an active drench aimed at internal parasites and intestinal worms, was largely developed by Australian science for the Australian market at Kemps Creek in Western Sydney. It was approved in New Zealand 14 months ago, some 12 months after it was submitted to the APVMA. At the beginning of this month, Australian producers were still unable to access the product because it had not been approved. The product was launched in the UK and Europe in April this year and it has been approved. It is also being used in South America. These countries and the producers taking full advantage of this product are in direct competition with producers in the seat of Dawson, in the west in electorates like O’Connor and Forrest, in my electorate of Calare and in almost every livestock-producing electorate in this country.

The drench has been billed as a 25-year breakthrough, with New Zealand based Professor Bill Pomroy quoted as saying ‘The product is a relief for farmers everywhere’ after the product was approved across the Tasman. Yet our producers were forced to wait and wait and wait for the product to work its way through the current waiting list that exists and prevents Australian producers from being at the front of the pack when fighting disease and maximising output.

You will find no-one on our side of the House who denies that the process of verification and regulation needs to happen. Proper scientific evaluation for all new products is crucial to the longevity of our producers and of their product. Verification regulation also helps guarantee the longevity of the environment and the land that is farmed, harvested and grazed on by our agricultural sector. But the process currently takes too long and is coming at too big a cost for our producers, who are forced to play catch-up to the rest of our world. We do need clean and safe chemicals but we need them sooner to guarantee the longevity of Australian food production. We need to be able to make the cake before we can eat it too and that is why we support this bill.

The government have announced that they are embarking on a reform partnership for the authority. However, like so many of their promises, we are yet to see any substantial improvements in the current situation. The government are yet to enlighten us on what exactly the reform partnership for the APVMA is, what form it will take or what role it will play. The lack of action thus far on the government’s behalf is putting Australian producers behind the eight ball both domestically and in the increasingly competitive international market.

The time must be shortened with respect to the backlog of chemicals waiting to be registered. If these chemicals will improve our yield without harming the environment or individuals then they should be on our crops and on or in our livestock, not waiting in line for approval. Any time that these chemicals spend in a line represents opportunities missed by Australian producers to harvest a bigger crop, to raise better livestock and contribute more to the Australian economy.

It is an issue of agriculture and an issue of food security; the two fields do go hand in hand. The coalition knows this and it also knows the importance of a country being able to feed itself. I am very fortunate to be the shadow minister for food security. I see it as an important responsibility and believe the portfolio complements the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry portfolios. The Labor Party does not share our priority. Food security is nowhere to be seen. Mind you, it is not alone. The Treasurer did not even mention the word ‘agriculture’ throughout his entire budget speech.

Those opposite simply do not care about regional Australia and their lack of serious action so far confirms this. At the 2007 election the coalition promised $6 million to address the minor use issue. This issue has seen legitimate access to appropriate crop protectants and animal health treatments for many smaller industries reduced by regulatory reviews of older chemistries. The government has done little to rectify the situation and has simply ignored the growing need for action. All this seems typical of a government that places food security at the low end of its priority scale, whether it be on the South Coast or in the Murray-Darling Basin.

When it comes to the importance of food security, I have said it several times here in committee and several more in the House of Representatives that the ability of a nation to feed itself is the cornerstone of any modern society. This amending bill will help our nation to improve that.

The second aspect of this bill will focus on ensuring trade issues are considered when addressing the adequacy of product labels and the definition of ‘adequate’. Instructions currently ensure that proper use of a product will not adversely affect Australia’s exports. However, from time to time an issue may arise that requires changes to be made to labels to update their instructions. If a country is to change their standards or what they consider acceptable, the Australian product labels will not always match these changes and will therefore be registered as a violation of the importing nation’s policy. Currently the authority must take regulatory action against the product registration. Once this is done it can then—and only then—take action to update the label. This takes time and money. The APVMA lacks the authority to move directly to the product label.

The bill would enable action to be taken by the authority that addresses any concerns as to the labelling of the product without unnecessarily affecting the actual registration of the product. This would enable our producers to continue to meet export demands without the flurry of paperwork and backlogs that currently exists. Our reputation—Australia’s agricultural reputation for clean, green and safe exports—must not be jeopardised. However, this reform and this alteration will enable our producers’ products to stay on foreign shelves and foreign dollars to stay in Australia.

The Australian export market is too big and too important to our economy and to the economy of regional centres and rural towns to be held back by inefficient paperwork. Our agricultural sector has spent the better part of the last decade fighting tooth and nail through the worst drought on record. Our farmers have done it tough. Our producers have done it tough. We, as a parliament, must give these producers the best possible chance of bouncing back. There has been rain but by no means are we or they out of the woods yet. Crop failures, crop losses and a higher Australian dollar have combined to create a situation where producers now need a series of successful years to get back into the black and to get back to being fully operational.

The bill makes that transition a little easier. It should be accompanied by more announcements and more action by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and more funding towards our agricultural agencies, particularly our quarantine and R&D agencies. Now is the time to reward those producers who have helped keep our economy out of recession. Now is the time to reward those producers who have battled through one of the most difficult decades for producers that this country has ever faced. This bill helps those producers and it helps regional Australia. I commend it to the parliament.